An Ellis County jury convicted Dallas resident Michelle Lorraine Lehman, 41, on nine counts of animal cruelty Thursday. Lehman was sentenced Friday to the maximum sentence of one year in jail and $4,000 fine for each count.
Waxahachie Police Officers arrested Lehman on Friday, July 29, 2011 for the alleged offense. Police officers were alerted after a motorist driving on Farm-to-Market Road 664 had seen a woman beating a dog with stick in a field.
Ellis County Assistant County and District Attorney Seth McCloskey said the witnesses reported that a woman was repeatedly swinging a stick overhanded like an ax chopping wood at a small dog until all of the dog’s four legs went flat and out from under it.
“They called the police and the police went out to meet them and they drove them to the scene. That is when police went onto the property and discovered the 82-plus animals that were tethered up or inappropriately mixed in with other groups of animals,” McCloskey said. “There was zero dog food anywhere to be found. There were only pizza crusts mixed with trash from basically dumpster diving for the dogs to fight over it.”
During the five-day trial that began on Monday, prosecutors presented evidence that Lehman leased an old barn on FM 664 in Ellis County where she confined 48 dogs and 34 cats without adequate food, water, shelter or care. The investigation that ensued revealed that Lehman physically abused the animals, tethered dogs without access to water, enclosed an unadoptable feral cat population and even isolated unruly animals by tethering them to a post without food or water until they died. She would then bury the dead animals behind the barn.
McCloskey said Lehman at first called her operation an “animal rescue” but later changed her operation to independent animal ownership program. During the trial photographs were presented to the jury showing the condition of the animals when law enforcement officers executed a warrant to cease the animals. The photos showed unhygienic conditions of the property that Lehman leased, the poor health of animals and the type of food that was available to them.
Experts testified that the animals were flea infested, had various forms of diseases, had open wounds and were not maintained in a good state of health. All of the animals showed signs of malnourishment and lack of proper care.
Lehman testified that she would feed the dogs pizza given by a friend who worked in a local restaurant. Evidence showed that the pizza was left overs mixed with plastic straws, napkins and other trash. This would be then dumped on the dirt floor among the urine and bloody stools of various animals.
In closing arguments McCloskey reminded the jury that 67 of the 82 animals found in Lehman’s care had to euthanized due to the severity of their conditions.
“Lehman was punished to the fullest extent of the law. My office is grateful for the jury’s verdict and sentence, which shows they place tremendous importance on the lives of those animals,” McCloskey said. “We also want to thank the Waxahachie Animal Control officers for their hard work in this case.”
County and District Attorney Patrick Wilson agreed with McCloskey and was very pleased with the outcome. Wilson said he hopes that this conviction sends a message to others that actions like this will not be tolerated.
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